One of the K-12 governance trends we discussed during the session I presented at MASA’s Aspiring Superintendents’ Academy on May 20 was the rapidly growing number of school boards that are paying serious attention to the “board savvy-ness” of candidates in filling superintendent vacancies. A rock-solid board-superintendent partnership is so critical to district success in these challenging times that boards aren’t inclined to have a new superintendent learn how to build this high-stakes partnership on the job. The very reasonable expectation is that new superintendents will be board-savvy enough to hit the ground running.
It’s one thing to be truly board-savvy; it’s another to demonstrate your board savvy-ness to a school board interviewing you for a superintendent vacancy. So we spent a few minutes on May 20 talking about the questions that candidates for the top district spot should be prepared to answer – whether they are a past or current superintendent or a senior executive aspiring to become a superintendent. Here are some of the more common ones. I’m sure you’ll think of others. If you are currently – or have been – a superintendent, you should expect to draw on your real-life experience in answering the questions. In this regard, I’ve added some tweaks in parentheses.
- What is your detailed definition of the governing role and major functions of the school board?
- What is the appropriate division of labor between a school board and its superintendent?
- What concrete steps might you take to help our board become a more effective governing body? (What steps have you taken……?)
- What are the key characteristics of a really effective board-superintendent partnership? What issues might erode the partnership if they aren’t dealt with? (What issues have you seen erode…….?)
- How might you go about building a really solid partnership with our board? (How have you gone about………?)
- What ideas do you have for actively engaging our board in district strategic and operational planning/budget development and in monitoring our district’s performance? (How have you actively engaged……….?)
- What are your thoughts on the use of board standing committees? What board committees have you worked with? What have been the strengths and weaknesses of particular committees?
- What do you consider the key elements of an effective process we can use to evaluate your performance as our chief executive officer?
Really detailed, thoughtful responses to these and other questions you might be asked will go a long way in demonstrating how serious and knowledgeable you are about the governing function and the board-superintendent partnership. Broad-brush answers that merely skim the surface or re-state conventional wisdom (e.g., the board should focus on the what, and the superintendent on the how) will almost certainly serve you ill. You should also be prepared to discuss problems you’ve had in working with one or more boards in other districts and to recount how you’ve gone about resolving them.
You’re invited to comment on your experience, adding questions you’ve been asked and sharing your responses.